Bedford shows it belongs, but question marks linger
By JIM FENNELL New Hampshire Union Leader
Sam Gauthier of Central works the ball around Nicole Tucci, of Bedford at Manchester Central High School on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
MANCHESTER - There was a lot Bedford coach Sue Thomas and Central of Manchester coach Mike Wenners didn't know about their respective teams before Friday night's season opener. There are plenty of questions still to be answered after the Bulldogs made their Division I debut with a 55-41 win over the Little Green.
There were positives for each team to build on, for sure. Bedford showed it had the talent to move up from Division II and be competitive; Central displayed a gritty spirit that will give opposing teams fits.
There was also plenty to work on. The Bulldogs shot 34 percent from the field (19-for-56); the Little Green turned the ball over 28 times.
Such is the life when the freshmen on your team equal or outnumber the seniors.
That's what both teams are facing - Bedford has two seniors and three freshmen, while Central dressed two seniors and two freshmen - so Thomas and Wenners recognized the faults in their team, but were happy to look at the gains their young squads made even as the game went on.
Central committed 15 turnovers in the first quarter, but only six in the second half and Wenners was pleased with the effort his players gave. Thomas didn't like how her team was getting lost on defense and there tweaks needed to the team's press, but she was also happy with the adjustments they made in the second half, holding Central to six points in the third quarter.
"This was a good first game for us. Central never quits," Thomas said. "We need to play a lot stronger, a lot cleaner. We played pretty sloppy."
Central has to live without stalwart senior Katherine Johnson until at least January while she comes back from knee surgery, so the fact that the Little Green kept fighting left Wenners feeling good about his team.
"The kids played hard," Wenners said. "If we keep working like that and we get Katherine Johnson back, we'll be OK."
The Bulldogs' defensive pressure gave them plenty of opportunities to build a big lead in the first half, but they shot 9-for-34 in the half and had to be content with a 24-19 lead at the intermission.
Junior center McKenzie Brown, an athletic 6-foot-1, showed she could be a matchup problem for many teams in the division, scoring 10 of her 17 points in the first quarter. The Bulldogs also displayed some impressive depth as Thomas shuttled players in out to force tempo. Nine different players scored, including freshmen Brianna Purcell (6), Nicole Tucci (8) and Courtney O'Connell (4).
Central senior forward Megan Cleary, the only player on the team with any real experience, showed she is capable of providing the Little Green with consistent offense while Johnson is out, scoring a game-high 18 points. Sophomores Angelina Marazzi (9) and Mary Soares (2) and freshman Devin LaCroix (4) were solid in their debuts.
Thomas and Wenners will find out a little more about their teams Tuesday when Central goes across town to play Trinity and Bedford travels to face perennial division power Londonderry.